While visitors often plan a trip to the beach with thoughts of seashell hunting, there is bigger treasure occasionally found on the beaches in Vero Beach, Florida. After a big storm passes during hurricane season, remnants from shipwrecked Spanish galleons are sometimes washed ashore along the Treasure Coast of Florida.
On July 24th, 1715, a fleet of eleven Spanish galleons and one French ship, set sail from Havana, Cuba to Spain but on July 30th, a powerful hurricane hit while they were sailing off the coast of what is now Vero Beach and Sebastian, Florida. The French ship was ahead of the storm and safe but all of the Spanish galleons crashed on the reefs close to shore and perished along with 700 lives and all the ships treasures. While the Spanish established a salvage camp and recovered vast amounts of the treasure, thousands of the 1715 Spanish fleet’s gold and silver coins were never recovered.
In the small town of Vero Beach, it had been rumored that sunken treasure lay off the coast and occasionally a beachcomber might find a gold coin or other artifact after a big storm hit. In 1939, a local charter boat captain discovered two very old shipwreck sites between Sebastian Inlet and Vero Beach. Because remnants kept washing ashore overtime, treasure divers came seeking fame and fortune in the waters off the coast stretching from the shoals between Cape Canaveral and Stuart. In Fort Pierce, one shipwreck was found sunken in just 15 feet of water only 200 yards offshore. In the 1960s and 70s, salvagers found huge amounts of gold and silver that they started bringing up from the wrecks of the Spanish galleons. It wasn’t long after that those ancient shipwrecks would end up giving the Treasure Coast of Florida its name. More than 300 years later, salvagers are still working offshore in hopes of recovering more Spainsh treasure.
For adventurers who enjoy the thrill of the hunt, the Treasure Coast is not just a place to spend time relaxing at the beach but it’s also a good spot for treasure hunting. After days of strong winds, the beach can be covered with shells of all kinds and perhaps a special treasure will be among them. The good news is that “finders are keepers” if you are lucky enough to find old coins on a public beach. Metal detectors are allowed between the edge of the dunes and the high tide mark on public beaches…if in doubt, ask. Florida State law requires recovery permits for artifacts found on state owned land that is underwater, but not on its public beaches.
Who knows, meandering along the shore and picking up whatever catches your eye might result in a lucky find but for the rest of us, the beautiful beaches are perfect for collecting shells, sea glass and driftwood. There is also fishing from one of the piers, snorkeling and diving or picnicking in one of the park pavilions. The Treasure Coast is also among the most important turtle nesting habitats in the western hemisphere. During the summer you can join researchers to watch a sea turtle release or take a guided walk on the beach at night to see the turtles nesting.
If you plan to visit the Treasure Coast and would like to know more about the history of the shipwrecks, it has been preserved in two museums in our area. The McLarty Treasure Museum is located on the site of a survivors camp on the south boundary of the Sebastian Inlet State park. Found on display are coins, weapons, and tools salvaged from the fleet of Spanish treasure ships that sank here in the 1715 storm. The Mel Fisher’s Treasure Museum in also located in Sebastian, a town just north of Vero Beach. There is a spectacular collection of artifacts and treasure recovered from the ocean both on the Treasure Coast and in the Florida Keys.
Earlier in our life, my husband and I lived in the Key Largo in the Florida Keys, another area famous for shipwrecks caused by hurricanes. During one of our short weekend vacations to Key West, my husband sought treasure of his own. Bring a diver himself, he was interested in the treasure that had been retrieved from the shipwrecked Atocha found off Key West, Florida. He bought a silver coin that was mounted in gold and continues to wear it today. When it needed a repair recently, we went to a jeweler here in Vero Beach to have it fixed. The store had a number of Spanish coins found off the Treasure Coast in their display cases. Seeing the coins made me think that my readers might enjoy learning about the interesting history that happened right off the coast of where we live.